TBtB: Houston Astros

Exhibit A in the Trouble with Naming Rights. Minute Maid Park was formerly known as Enron Field, until that energy trading company became the poster child for corporate malfeasance. Contrast that with Houston’s former home. The greatest potential embarrassment for the Astrodome was if George Jetson’s dog started humping Mr. Spacely’s leg.

While Enron was a crappy company, it was a pretty solid corporate name for a ballpark. It rolled off the tongue quite nicely, particularly given how you could squint your ears and think it was Home Run Field. Its replacement makes you think of Florida, even if the corporate office for Minute Maid is right there in the 281.

As with the Fish Tank, Houston went a little overboard on the quirk, but in a location where it doesn’t necessarily fit as well as it does in South Beach. You have the railroad to nowhere above left field, and, Tal’s Hill, now leveled, in center. I guess you have to try a little harder when you’re replacing the Eighth Wonder, even if the old place had gotten quite long in the tooth.

Unlike the recent batch of five parks where the old name was a strong contender, I doubt MM is even nominated here. It’s just that useless.

Ballpark History

Built: 2000

Capacity: 41,168

Name: Minute Maid Park, 2002-present. Before that, Enron Field 2000-02; Astros Field, a few months in 2002.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city:  Astrodome, 1965-1999; Colt Stadium, 1962-64.

Distinctive Features: The train honoring the site’s history as Houston’s Union Station; the left field wall scoreboard below the Crawford Boxes; Home Run Pump in center, tallying Astros homers hit in the park since its opening; Tal’s Hill and flagpole, (2000-1916), the 30-degree incline and in-play pole, both cursed by a generation of NL centerfielders.

Ballpark Highlights:
A disputed ninth-inning home run by Brad Ausmus just cleared the pointless yellow line in left center, rallying the Astros from a five-run deficit in a 2005 NLDS game with Atlanta. Nine innings later, a Chris Burke homer gave the ’Stros a 7-6 win to claim the series in the longest playoff game in ML history.

Looking to close out the series, Brad Lidge gave up the Holy Shit Homer to Albert Pujols to keep the Cardinals alive in the rematch of the 2004 NLCS. Two nights later, the ’Stros would win Game 6 in St. Louee to earn their first Fall Classic appearance.

In the first World Series game played in Texas, Geoff Blum hit a 14th-inning home run off Ezequiel Astacio to propel the White Sox to a 7-5 victory. The following evening, the visitors finished off the sweep for their first title in 88 years.

On Opening Day 2013, the tank-mode hosts accidentally beat visiting Texas 8-2, marking their first game in the American League after 51 seasons in the Senior Circuit.

Alex Bregman’s 10th-inning single to center scored pinch-runner Derek Fisher to give Houston a 13-12 victory in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series. Three nights later, in Los Angeles, the Astros would claim their first world title.

 

Utley Rule Can’t Last

While predicting what Major League Baseball will do under its bizarre boss Bobby Manfred is a challenging endeavor, I’m going to tempt fate: When the 2019 season kicks off, there will be a new version of the Chase Utley Rule.

The Utley Rule, so-named after the future Hall of Fame snub Chase Utley viciously bulldozed New York’s Ruben Tejada at second base in the 2015 National League Championship Series, was designed to reduce carnage on double play attempts.

The rule has been somewhat effective in achieving its aims, though much less so than the Buster Posey Rule. That was the change to the rule governing home plate that was named for the victim, rather than the perpetrator, of a gruesome collision. The long-overdue Posey Rule required some adjustments by catchers to stop blocking the plate without the ball, but baserunners no longer felt compelled to piledrive the backstop to score a valuable run, and began to opt for the safer play.

In contrast, the Utley Rule is one that players and managers haven’t fully embraced. The interested parties don’t seem to have uniform understanding of its elements, or uniform acceptance of its aims.

Two plays in the last week have brought the issue to the forefront and are different examples of why the rule needs to be rewritten. On Memorial Day in Pittsburgh, Anthony Rizzo, who was out by a good eight feet on a force play at the plate, made a slight detour from his established line to make a hard slide at the legs of Pirate catcher Elias Diaz. Rizzo’s crappy slide was ruled OK by the umps at the park and, upon review, by the guys back in New York. It was also given the Seal of Approval from Rizzo’s insufferable boss, Joe Maddon. One day later, MLB ruled that Rizzo’s slide was not “just dandy,” and should have resulted in a double play.

That both the umps on the field and the ones in the booth looking at the exact same video evidence the league would use couldn’t get the call right suggests there’s not enough clarity in the rule as currently written.

Last night, we saw another example of why the rule can’t survive. On the final play of the Rangers-Angels contest, repeat offender Rougned Odor tried to break up a double play with a wide slide to catch Andrelton Simmons. The effort failed and the Angels were still able to turn two, though Simmons expressed his displeasure with the slide to Odor, a man you may not want to risk upsetting.

This play represented two other problems with the play. First, it’s clear that the players have differing views of what MLB was trying to do with the rule. Some, like Rizzo and Odor, believe the takeout slide is still a cherished part of the game, and that MLB was only trying to eliminate the horrifically egregious acts like Utley’s. Others believe the league is trying to make the game safer for our nation’s precious supply of middle infielders (and occasionally catchers), it wants to wipe out those reckless acts and the Utley Rule merely codified that desire in a way that was also manageable for the men in blue.

Moreover, even if the umps on the field had ruled that Odor’s slide violated Rule 601(j), the consequences were nil. The Angels managed to accomplish the proscribed penalty anyway.

There will be more of these types of plays, and more back and forth about whether some future slide was dirty and unwarranted or just “good hard baseball.” And that issue won’t be resolved until MLB makes it clear just what it wants, and writes a rule that meets that aim.

 

 

 

Godspeed Hanley

For most athletes, I make up my mind early whether I’m a fan, and typically stick with it. Then there’s Hanley Ramirez.

Hanley was one of the true, and rare, minor league prizes from the Dan Duquette-era Red Sox. He was the guy all Sox fans were following from the time the club inked him as an amateur FA from the Dominican Republic at the age of 16 ½.

But Hanley’s push through the Sox system wasn’t a smooth one, and a lot of the sheen was off his prospect status when Boston dealt him to Miami for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in late 2005. The Marlins, locked in one of their periodic Fish guttings, immediately turned over the starting shortstop job to him at the age of 22. And Hanley rewarded them, running off a string of all-star caliber seasons over his first four seasons in the big leagues. Only the success of Beckett and Lowell, key members of the ’07 championship team, kept him from becoming a Bagwellian figure in Sox fan lore.

But even while he was establishing himself as one of the most valuable players in the game, there were signs of the issues that started to creep when he was coming up on the farm. Disputes with management and fellow players, some occasional bouts of laziness, including a notorious failure to run down an errant throw, led some to think he was giving much of that on-field value back.

After five seasons of excellent and healthy play, Hanley soon became a DL regular, during both his final days in South Florida and his subsequent relocation to the left coast with the Dodgers. But his bat bounced back in LA, and Boston gobbled him and fellow question mark Pablo Sandoval when he hit free agency in 2015. With Hanley, the club’s plan was to relocate him from short, where his glove would no longer play, to left, where his glove would prove to be made of some sort of baseball-repellent material. As defensive shifts go, it was an utter disaster, and mandated a second shift the following year over to first, where Hanley dispelled the predictions of more chaos by turning in his best season in Beantown on both sides of the ball.

Even with a decent campaign behind him, the Sox signed the perpetually below-average Mitch Moreland to man first in 2017 and moved Hanley down to the bottom rung of the defensive spectrum. His bat didn’t cooperate, and when Boston signed born-DH J.D. Martinez to handle that chore this offseason, Ramirez’s future was a question, particularly given a vesting option for 2019 that kicked in if Hanley reached a PA threshold.

Last week, the Boston FO made sure that didn’t happen, jettisoning the slumping Ramirez to clear a roster space for the returning Dustin Pedroia. I was glad they did, but not because I didn’t care for Hanley. It was the opposite. The Hanley Ramirez who returned to Boston for a second stint was one of the more likable players to don the carmine hose in recent memory, something I’d never expected to write during the first decade of this century.

After his miserable first season on the field, Hanley became a joy to watch in Years 2, 3 and the abbreviated 4. The guy with the questionable attitude in the Boston minor league system and his early days in Florida played with a permanent smile on his face, egged on his teammates and, most notably, engaged the fans of the Fens like few have before him. Clips like this, or this or this or this show a guy who just loved and appreciated being a big league ballplayer, the way we like to think we’d be if we had that opportunity. That’s how I want to remember him.

I didn’t want to see the final days of his Sox tenure become a question over his vesting option, with Hanley getting testy if he wasn’t getting used enough for his liking. And with $22 million at stake, who could blame him? To see the happy-go-lucky, fan-friendly Hanley become consumed by his playing time and questions about a role his bat simply wasn’t justifying would have been dispiriting in what’s shaping up as an otherwise excellent Sox season.

No, better to cut the cord now. I hope he latches on somewhere else, regains his stroke and tacks on another couple of productive years. I hope he makes the occasional return to Landsdowne Street and is greeted warmly by fans who appreciate how much he appreciated them. I hope he gets to choose when he hangs up the spikes, rather than have the game do it for him.

I hope he does all of this. Just not with the Yankees.

TBtB: Moving On

As expected, there was no serious objection to the names of the ballparks the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees call home – Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium.

Milwaukee, too, is retaining its current name. While there were some nominees thrown out, the consensus seemed to be that Miller Park works for the Brew Crew.

That leaves us with two holdovers from By Acclimation Week. I’m kind of shocked that so many people think Oriole Park or OPACY is a suitable alternative when the positively glorious Camden Yards is there for the taking, and the name the park is most often called. But we’re going to vote anyway.

Colorado will follow, but we have to sort out the potential nominees first.

 

TBtB: New York Yankees

Ah, perhaps the toughest entry of all for me to come up with, given how I place the Yankees just above Pol Pot and one spot below You Tube stars on my hierarchy of historical malevolence, and that’s only because the Yankees have slipped down a few spaces after the nice anti-bullying spot they recently did.

Yankee Stadium III is that rare new park that seems to be least appreciated by the fans of the club, particularly in comparison with the facility it replaced. From what I can tell, it tends to do better on rankings from non-Yankee partisans.

The name has been a constant, from the place that George Herman had a hand in constructing through the 1970s renovation that maintained the old footprint through the newer place located nearby. It’s not terribly original, but it’s also hard to imagine it being called anything else. Hell, if Yankee fans at BTF are representative of the fanbase as a whole, the bigger question isn’t whether the name is good enough for the park, but whether the ballyard is good enough to be called Yankee Stadium.

Ballpark History

Built: 2009

Capacity: 47,309

Name: Yankee Stadium 2009-present.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city:  Yankee Stadium II (sort of) 1975-2008; Shea Stadium 1973-74; Yankee Stadium I 1923-1973; Polo Grounds 1913-22; Hilltop Park, 1903-12. Stadium also used as home for Major League Soccer’s New York FC.

 

Distinctive Features:  Monument Park; roof frieze; exterior of Indiana limestone (my Hoosier pride); the moats; all those damn pennants.

Ballpark Highlights:
In the first season of the new park, the Yankees appeared on their way to a Subway Series loss to the crosstown Mets when Alex Rodriguez popped up with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth. However, Luis Castillo dropped the can of corn, giving the Yanks a 9-8 victory.

Later that year, short-rest starter Andy Pettitte extended his record for most career postseason victories to 18 in a 7-3 win over Philadelphia, giving the club its 27th World Series title.

In 2010, Alex Rodriguez homered off poor-spelling Blue Jays pitcher Shawn Marcum for his 600th career dinger, becoming the youngest to join the club. Baseball, Bud Selig and Biogenesis made sure he never reached 700.

In 2011, Derek Jeter became the second player to homer for his 3,000th hit (following equally unlikely candidate Wade Boggs). Icky Yankee mouthpiece Randy Levine strong-armed a fan out of the historic baseball.

One month later, Curtis Granderson hit an eighth-inning grand slam off Oakland’s Bruce Billings. It was the third Yankee slam in the team’s 22-9 victory, the only time in major league history a team had three homers with the bases loaded in the same game.

Teammates Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter lifted Mariano Rivera with two outs in the eighth inning in the future Hall of Famer’s final game, culminating the first of back-to-back long farewell tours for Yankee greats.

 

TBtB: Baltimore Orioles

Oriole Park at Camden Yards remains the template for the modern park, in all the right ways. Place it in a convenient, central city location? Check. Incorporate the surrounding area into the design? Check. Offer the customer new ways to enjoy the game beyond what was previously available? Got that.

Only two problems. They almost got the name perfect, but the Oriole Park part was simply unnecessary. Without its useless appendage, Camden Yards would be on the Mount Rushmore of baseball park names. It still might be (feel free to use the comment section below to discuss the four best ballpark names in history).

The other problem: The oldest of the Unacceptable children has spent three of the past four years at school in Charm City, and every damn time I’ve been out there during baseball season the O’s have been on the road. I’ve got one more year, and if I have to drag him out of class early or let him miss the first couple of days just so I can take in an O’s game, that’s gonna happen.

Next: This Miller’s from Bud

Ballpark History

Built: 1992

Capacity: 45,971

Name: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 1992-present.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city: Memorial Stadium 1954-1991. Original Baltimore franchise played in Oriole Park IV, 1901-02.

Distinctive Features: the B&O Warehouse beyond right field; the barbecue pit operated by Oriole and Nickname Great Boog Powell; the park once had great views of the downtown skyline, though subsequent construction has limited that; pretty much all the other features were distinctive when Camden Yards opened, but have subsequently been appropriated by other parks.


Ballpark Highlights:

On April 6, 1992, Former Ballplayer and Sitting President (titles in order of importance) George H.W. Bush threw out the first pitch before the O’s contest with Cleveland, officially opening Oriole Park at Camden Yards and launching a new wave in ballpark construction.

On Sept, 6, 1995, California’s Shawn Boskie coaxed a pop-up from Cal Ripken to escape a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fifth inning, officially qualifying the contest as a major league game. In the process, Ripken set baseball’s least-dramatic record.

Serving as a harbinger of baseball’s future, five Indians pitchers combined to blank the host Orioles over 11 innings in the sixth and deciding game of the 1997 American League Championship Series.

In Game 1 of a doubleheader, the Texas Rangers scored the most runs in a game in 110 years in a 30-3 pasting of the O’s. I beg you not to mock Wes Littleton’s save in that contest.

On Opening Day 2008, a disabled 13-year-old boy was devastated when he couldn’t secure a ticket to see his beloved O’s, a tale brought to life by enterprising Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Templeton.

Due to the ongoing Baltimore riots in 2015, the Orioles game with the White Sox game was played before zero fans.

TBtB: Milwaukee Brewers

Of all the paid-for ballpark names, this one probably works the best. The title sponsor’s name is short and kind of generic, so we aren’t dealing with something that’s obviously corporate. Miller’s ties to the city run long and deep. And, of course, the team’s nickname pulls from the very industry of the brand. You could argue that Miller Park would be one of the best names for the park even if the brewery wasn’t forking over the dough for the privilege.

The park itself is a blend of ballpark design elements. It has the arched brick exterior common with the retros. Its retractable roof is a modern marvel, and allows Bud Selig’s former team to host all of those games snowed or hurricaned or collapsed out of other locales. And its setting far from the urban center traces back to the cookie cutter era, the location an accommodation of the area’s rich tailgating culture.

While my money is on Miller retaining its title, we could use this opportunity to honor one of our own. Alas, a) he’s already a tribute to the most famous club in Brew Crew history, and b) he wasn’t terribly fond of the place.

Thus, we might have to figure out some other way to memorialize Mr. Wallbangers, whose circle in BTF’s Hall of Fame is just one poster deep.

Next: Voting Resumes in Texas

Ballpark History

Built: 2001

Capacity: 41,900

Name: Miller Park, 2001-present.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city: Milwaukee County Stadium 1970-2000 (before that, County Stadium hosted the Milwaukee Braves from 1953-1965.

Distinctive Features: Bernie Brewer slide; fan-shaped roof; Ueck; the race where Randall Simon tapped his inner Gilooly; the ever-present scent of tubed meat on a grill.


Ballpark Highlights:

In a moment that encapsulated his stewardship of MLB, a flummoxed Bud Selig declared a tie after 11 innings of the 2002 All-Star Game, a result aided by managers Bob Brenly and Joe Torre forgetting how extra innings work.

In 2007, the United States Bowling Congress Masters finals were held at Miller Park with the playing surface fitted with four lanes. I like to think this was the inspiration for the Brew Crew’s bowling pin celebration at home plate two years later.

In 2008, Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano threw baseball’s first neutral-site no-hitter when he blanked the host Astros in a game moved to Milwaukee due to Hurricane Ike. A few weeks ago we got our second, since sadly zero no-hitters have been thrown by MLB pitchers at Estadio Hiram Bithorn.

Later that year, Dave Bush and four relievers combined to silence the eventual World Series champion Phillies in Game 3 of the NLDS in the first playoff game played in the Beer City in 26 years.

Jean Segura broke Baseball Reference* when he stole first base on an attempted steal of third in an April game against the visiting Cubs. One pitch later, he was thrown out trying to steal second, the base he started the mess from.

*See Sean’s explanation at the top of the boxscore page.